By Shannon Lane @Shannonroselane
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Videographer / director: Alec Gary
Producer: Shannon Lane, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
Cole Sydnor, from Richmond, Virginia had a life changing accident in August 2011, when diving in a local river and hitting a rock, that left him paralysed from the chest down.
The now 23-year-old has gone through rigorous rehabilitation to help accept his new body, but also found love in Charisma Jamison, who was a Rehabilitation Technician at the centre.
The couple have been together for a year and now run a frank YouTube channel documenting their lives as a interabled couple and the discussions that come with it.
Cole told Barcroft TV: "I was with some friends at the James River at a place called the Pipeline and it’s kind of like a rapids and there are some slower sections that you can just wallow in and a lot of people go there and hang out.
"At one point when we were crossing the river I dove in and I hit a rock submerged just below the surface of the water and I got a long scar and I instantly broke my neck and was paralysed.
"Luckily one of my friends saw that I was just floating down the rapids and was able to jump and grab me before I hit a set of rapids 10 yards down the river. If he hadn’t got me before then I would not be here at all.
"I broke my neck at C5 and C6 and I broke my spinal cord and that cut off all function below those levels of vertebrae. I can't use my hands and I can't use my triceps either so I am a functionally complete quadriplegic.
"I remember being in the hospital bed and feeling so trapped because I couldn’t move anything and I wasn’t exactly sure why I know that I had hit my head really hard and I asked my mom, I mouthed to her because I couldn’t speak at the time and I said 'am I paralysed?" and she looked at me and she said ‘yeah’.
“In the beginning I didn’t realise that I would be a quadriplegic, I wouldn’t be able to use my hands or my triceps. I thought I would be like a paraplegic and just not be able to walk. I’m probably glad in hindsight that I didn’t because if I understood all of that in the beginning it would have been a lot harder to have the motivation to try and regain some of my life before my accident.
“I had to relearn how to do everything like feeding myself, brushing my teeth, brushing my hair, putting my shirt on, like everything I took for granted as an able-bodied person. You have to relearn once you become quadriplegic - or a paraplegic even -and so it was pretty rigorous in the beginning for sure."
Some of Cole’s rehabilitation was done at the Sheltering Arms Physical Rehabilitation Centre, which is where he first met his now-girlfriend, Charisma.
Charisma said: “The first interaction at Sheltering Arms he was on a bike getting therapy and I had come over to ask his therapist if they needed help because my side of the therapy gym was really empty and they were slammed.
"So I came to help and they told me to get some pads off Cole’s butt, because he had electrical pads all over him so he can ride the bike, and it just gives him some stimulations into his legs. So I had to remove those from his butt and his legs and he hated it - and I thought nothing of it."
Cole laughed: "I mean of course I wanted to be looking good for this attractive girl who’s helping me out, meanwhile I am in my workout clothes and she’s pulling pads off my butt like, how am I supposed to flirt in that sort of context?
After their awkward meet, the pair found each other on Instagram - and Cole slid into Charisma’s DM’s.
Charisma joked: “The classic 21st Century way of dating.”
Cole said: "I know it’s so millennial but I don’t have any shame. I got the girl and that’s what matters.”
Due to Charisma’s training and experience in the rehabilitation field, she is able to help with certain aspects of Cole’s caregiving.
Cole said: "Charisma does participate with activities, she helps with transfers a lot and some other care giving type stuff, she hasn’t learned everything but 90 percent of my caregiving she can do which is awesome."
Charisma added: "I just haven’t learned how to help with bowel program and stuff. When we travel together we just kind of avoid those days where he has to have a program."
Cole said: “Bowel programs are very involved from the caregiver perspective having to get all that out so you can probably understand why I don’t want my girlfriend to have to do that, but it is awesome that she is willing to, I just I don’t know.”
Charisma added: “When the time is right we will learn, we will get there."
Charisma is a full time student, studying her masters in Science And Occupational Therapy, and Cole has a real estate company which focuses on accessible housing for those with mobility impairment.
The couple have also set up a business and vlog together; Roll With Cole & Charisma Productions.
Created in Summer 2018, their YouTube channel is dedicated to promoting interabled and interracial relationships.
Charisma said: “To be honest I was never this type of person who watched couples on YouTube and I don't like to put my life out there, but I think our purpose was to bring awareness about accessibility and dating, we try to open it up in doing a little bit more but we try and just use this platform to bring awareness.”
Cole added: "I do feel like for the longest time I would kind of just be looked over. Like if I saw a cute girl or something, she would not even notice me. And I can’t assume why that is but I think part of this is you see someone in the wheelchair and be like – well, thats not someone I would date. And with the channel and people coming to learn about our relationship and how great it can be."
The pair also want to straighten out any misconceptions surrounding dating within spinal cord injuries.
Cole said: “Spinal cord injury sexual health, I think, it's very misunderstood. A whole a lot of people think that just because I’m in a chair, I can't do anything. It is different on a case-by-case basis for every spinal cord injury, so I can only speak to my situation but in my situation it does work!”
After celebrating their one year anniversary in December 2018, the couple are excited to see what the future brings them, and their business.
Cole said: “What I love is that we can’t answer that question. I think it’s awesome that our relationship has been evolving and how things have been coming, like so many opportunities coming at us. It is so hard to say where we could be because it could go anywhere which is awesome. I would rather not be able to answer that question and know exactly where I would be in five years"
Charisma added: "I like that. So we could be anywhere So check back in five years.”